What happens when an alien spider crash lands on earth? Alien Spidy has the answer. The adorable eight-legged freak from Aracnia has brought his adventure to Xbox Live Arcade, but he also brought some issues. This is one alien that should have stayed in orbit.
Alien Spidy is a twitch platformer, meaning that each level throws in tons of tricks and traps as you go from point A to point B. As Spidy runs and jumps through levels, things are often quite tricky, involving special timing and technical air maneuvers. Unfortunately, this simple A-to-B pattern is problematic, as running and jumping control far too loosely. Jump in the air, and you’ll be met with an awkward floating quality to the jump; run forward and release the stick, and Spidy will slide just slightly before stopping. With the game relying so heavily on precise timing and movement, this is a constant issue that will see you falling into pits and getting crushed by giant apples more often than not – the game’s one-hit deaths quickly feel like a grind. Super Meat Boy-esque instant respawns help alleviate this a bit, but the problem still stands.
Spidy can also swing with his web, fired with the right thumbstick. He can latch onto any solid black object and swing back and forth. You can also retract or extend the web, allowing for a decent level of swing and jump control once latched. But much like a newborn learning to eat, that latching on is a problem (first and last maternity joke ever, we swear). There is no aiming reticule or any real sense of where or how far Spidy’s web will shoot; you’ll be missing your target far more than you’ll actually hit it. Once again, when Alien Spidy requires so much precision with movement, this is a serious issue.
So the platforming and swinging in Alien Spidy don’t work, but where will you actually be attempting these maneuvers? The game offers many levels, so should you manage to pass enough, you’ll see a great host of geometry. Branches, tunnels, ponds, flowers, and mushrooms line the world of Alien Spidy, and no two levels feel the same, each following a theme of ascension or special directional swinging. You’ll encounter enemy insects too. Touching them means death, but they can also snap your web, causing you to plummet. You’ll also encounter fruits bats and (what appear to be) monkeys. These must distracted with apples to allow yourself safe passage. Enemies cannot be fought (only avoided), but this honestly isn’t an issue – it gives you a sense of playing as the nimble, fragile spider.
Though platforming issues are the biggest detractors in Alien Spidy, they’re only one part of the game’s focus. Levels are littered with score bubbles, a la LittleBigPlanet. Collecting them for a high score is your real objective in each level. Snatch them up in quick succession for a combo: the more you string together, the more they’re worth. You can also encounter red bubbles and score portals. Red bubbles subtract from your score, but portals are quite interesting. As you near one, it will display a point value that begins shrinking; you’ll have to grab it quickly for maximum points. Power ups help you gather all of these items more efficiently. Super speed lets you run faster, allowing you to quickly string together a line of bubbles. The “attractor” power up draws bubbles toward you, lessening the need to chase them down. Power ups deplete a meter in the top left of the screen; this meter can be filled by picking up purple orbs.
Your collection of score bubbles is tantamount to success in Alien Spidy. Chaining bubbles together nets you a better point combo, but every respawn will cost you points. In addition, your score is constantly shrinking, albeit slowly. This forces you to quickly make your way to the level’s end, rather than wasting time collecting everything. Finishing a level causes a score card to pop up, listing your total points and deductions, plus a rating out of five possible stars. Revisiting worlds for a higher score and a better rating is decent motivation to replay portions of the game, and each level is tied to a leaderboard, adding to the competition.
Unfortunately, Alien Spidy‘s control issues make all that high score jazz a moot point. Loose platforming and spotty swinging mechanics make chaining score bubbles together much harder than it needs to be. On top of that, the endlessly shrinking score means you’ll feel a need to rush through every level, and rushing does not mix with the game’s poor movement control. Even additions to the game meant to incentivize replaying the levels are marred by the game’s core mechanics.
That’s the story of Alien Spidy, really: a platformer that suffers in all aspects because of a failed core. The game has a nice style, and the idea of score attack gameplay coupled with web-slinging platforming is nice. Unfortunately, it just falls flat, and that’s a shame. All developers should learn a lesson from Alien Spidy: if you’re going to make a platformer, make sure the platforming works.